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Our Family/Notre Famille/Unsere Familie/ Nuestra Familia


April 22, 2003
-by Ray Dirks

Ray Dirks displays “Our Family” art selections from Zambia, Uruguay, Taiwan, USA, and Canada.

Winnipeg, Man.— Each day begins in the predawn darkness for Kenna Dula and his wife Aster Wolde.

By shortly after five AM they are side by side, on their knees praying together. Before the long, soft shafts of early sunlight streak their Akaki neighborhood in rich red and orange tinted earth tones life is well underway.

Shortly the children, daughters Meheret, Peniel and Shalom and son Amanuel, are up and getting ready for school. They slip on their blue school uniforms including blue sweaters. Akaki, just outside the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, is situated in the tropics but the high altitude means cool nights and mornings. Sweaters are a necessary part of the school uniform.

After breakfast the children rush out the door and down the dirt and red stone street fronting their home heading to school.

Once the children are gone Aster and Kenna leave for work. They cross the highway that links Addis to Debre Zeit and beyond through the area where the first Mennonite missionaries worked. Aster stops on the other side of the highway to wait for a bus to take her to her job nearby. She is an accountant in a factory down the highway towards Debre Zeit.

Kenna says good-bye and follows a small path leading down a gentle hill through a field waiting for the rains so the next crop of teff, the grain from which the Ethiopian flatbread injera is made, can be planted. Three teenage boys break rocks alongside the path. These will be sold and used for construction.

Horse carts roll by on a small road that joins the path part way down the hill. People stream through factory gates ready to start their shifts. Kenna continues to the bottom of the hill and the paved road that runs through the heart of Akaki heading towards Addis. A widened area of hard packed dirt fills with people waiting for buses. A ping pong game at a table set beside the road occupies several boys.

A variety of horse carts, taxis, vans and buses pass by. Kenna catches a bus into the city centre. He gets off the bus near the downtown stadium and walks past the muddy field outside the stadium. Young men play football. He hails a blue and white van – all public transport vans and taxis are blue and white. The van heads into the immense Meskel Square where under the Derg, the Communist government that ruled for 17 years (ending in 1991), huge portraits of Marx and Engels gazed over the acres of pavement. Roads balloon into a parking lot wide expanse. Vehicles burst into the square and race towards the vein running out of the far side that they wish to reach. Suddenly traffic is free and roaring across the square.

A few minutes up the Bole Road towards the gleaming new airport Kenna gets out of the van and walks the last few minutes to his work. An hour and a half after leaving his home he arrives at the offices of the Meserete Kristos Church (MKC).

In 1982 leaders of the church were thrown into prison by the Derg. They suffered in abominable conditions for four years. The church was forced underground. Under the most trying of conditions the church blossomed. It continues its explosive growth to this day. The MKC is now one of the largest conferences in the world that is a part of the Mennonite World Conference.

From Ethiopia I journeyed to Bienenberg, the European Mennonite Bible School in Switzerland that is undergoing major changes, and then to Zurich where early Swiss Anabaptist history can be retraced. After collecting art from French and Swiss Mennonite artists I moved on to Holland.

Ineke and Peter Reinhold were waiting at the Amsterdam Central Station. I spent the next days moving through Holland from urban settings – Utrecht, Almere, Amsterdam – to the country – Bunnik, Krommennie, Mennorode – meeting people, revisiting history, seeing the current ministry of the church.

It seemed appropriate to end the Our Family reference gathering trips in the country of Menno Simons. Ending at the beginning completed a circle. Our prayer is that the Our Family project will be a circle, going from the beginning to now and around again and again, for many to experience and celebrate the global family of faith of which we are a part.

The project now enters its final phase – bringing the art together, creating text and photo panels about daily life in the participating countries, making final arrangements for shipping to Zimbabwe, etc… Please pray for us as we assemble it. We also must raise some more money. If you know of anyone who could be interested in supporting this project we would appreciate your informing us. All donations in Canada and the US are tax deductible.

Hope to see you in Bulawayo!

Our Family is a project of the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery and the Mennonite World Conference. In March, Ray Dirks completed his last trip to visit artists and collect their work. He traveled to Ethiopia, France, Switzerland and Holland.